Center for Leadership Excellence

1. Circuit Interview (16 October, 2014)

Bill Paradis is an extremely experienced business leader. He set up the Center for Leadership Excellence in 1999 to share his proprietary insights into how leaders and managers can improve their performance.

Initially providing its services through consultancy, the business grew rapidly, only to get hit hard by the dotcom bubble.

Now approaching retirement, Bill is working on a way to deliver his extremely valuable guidance via an online subscription product: CLE Samurai. This requires a very different way of marketing that brings its own challenges.

I recorded this call in two sections. The first 65-minute section was mainly focused on the Brand element, but touched on a lot of other content. That meant the second part of the call was actually pretty quick. Plus, Bill has already identified some distinct target markets.

Another interesting aspect of this project is that this is a broad solution that can address an enormous range of problems (related to communication and performance). By the same token, the respective promised outcomes will be equally fuzzy. Overall, this is shaping up to be a fascinating case study.

1.1 Part One (MP3 | 65 minutes | Download: 29MB)

1.2 Part Two (MP3 | 38 minutes | Download: 17MB)

2. Circuit Review (23 October, 2014)

This is proving to be a fascinating case study – and a great use of the Circuit model!

For fun, here’s my whiteboard after I went through the Circuit Interview recordings again. In this case, I did not work through every question in the document, because I knew after an initial high-level review that we had issues with the Problem and Proposition elements.


Despite the shine, you can see that what I’m primarily doing is evaluating the five elements (with the check mark for “good”, question mark for “questionable”, or cross for “problems”).

The purpose of a marketing campaign is twofold:

  1. Reach your target market.
  2. And do what it takes to bridge the awareness gap between where they are now and where they have to buy what you’re offering.

In this case, the product is pretty good (although the options are confusing), but the material is actually excellent, and has a long proven track record.

However, if we were to address all the conscious problems that managers and leaders could potentially face that might reveal a need for leadership development, we would need a million problems. Then we’d need a million propositions to target those problems. Clearly, that’s a non-runner.

In a Circuit Review, when we identify one or more weak, unclear, or misaligned elements, we STOP and think about how else we might arrange the elements to form a strong Circuit. In this case, the client already has a tool for identifying the specific problems: their own version of the 360-degree appraisal.

Here’s my review call with Bill Paradis, where I present my proposals:

  • Simplified product & pricing (single, all-you-can-eat access, but as a recurring subscription).
  • Focus on the market of HR Directors (more attractive big-spend, allowing for more sales investment)
  • And using the mechanism of the 360-degree review in order get each customer to discover their own specific problems (thus helping to bridge the awareness gap!)

2.1 Review Call with Client (MP3 | 54 minutes | Download: 24MB)

The next steps are to analyse the new Circuit, i.e. our proposition to the HR Director market. It is interesting how you can apply the Circuit method to any proposition or business model, and even to break down a sale into a sequence of multiple smaller “conversion events” (e.g. signing up for a free course > buying an online assessment > final subscription).

2.2 Second Review Call with Client (MP3 | 65 minutes | Download: 30MB)

I spent another hour reviewing the Circuit again, in the light of focusing on the new market, and made notes on how we might position the other elements for optimum impact. The Problem element was the unknown.

However, in our next follow-up call, Bill and I made some significant breakthroughs! This call contains a lot of new insights, which will take me a few days to process. Well worth a listen!

3. Campaign Design

11 November: I just reviewed the last call (2.2) with the client, and made a few more notes…

  • Overall, I think we should aim to do less, and do it better by focusing the product and the whole message.
  • The brand should be “Center for Leadership Excellence”, and I think the product should be the same (like e.g. Infusionsoft). There are many reasons for this.
    • Applying the 80:20 principle, we should focus the company’s attention and resources on the product that’s most likely to succeed.
    • And we’re defining success by creating a business that’s going to deliver a reliable revenue stream without Bill’s presence. So we must clearly look at the distinctive online product, not the traditional service offering, because any service business has far stronger limits on scalability than a product business – and particularly a digital information product business.
  • The Product (Center for Leadership Excellence) becomes something that you can belong to (adding value), and could grow over time, with an element of interactivity. Members could submit questions about real-life situations, and the CLE experts could post their responses, thereby making the product more useful, ensuring it has real-world applicability, and building the library of materials over time.
  • The product will be simplified, so everyone gets the 360-degree review, and everyone gets full access to the whole library of resources. This will make pricing, sales, and administration much easier.
  • Bill told me that the Market that is most likely to be responsive is actually the board-level executive that has responsibility for HR performance, often the CFO.
  • However, we still have the issue that the Problem could be one of many. Bill described two likely scenarios:
    • The business is going through a significant change, and the leadership want to ensure everyone is on board and working well together. This is not a constant issue, but not uncommon.
    • Secondly, there could be a significant issue with one particular person. My concern here is that, in this very time-based situation, it is extremely unlikely that someone will ask the questions that will lead them to CLE! In fact, that is hard to visualise at all.
  • I wonder whether there is a third approach to the Problem: that is, to go for the “Vitamin” angle, not the “Painkiller” angle. This makes the CLE product more akin to insurance than to problem-solving. What I like about this approach is that it does not depend on a current issue, i.e. a temporal issue. We can reach out to any large organisation at any time with a preventative proposition. We don’t have to wait for them to have a bleeding-neck problem. This is the approach I currently favour. In other words, we’re presenting an opportunity, not solving an immediate problem.
  • That then changes the Proposition. We were already happy with, “The most cost-effective way to deliver practical professional development to all your leaders and managers.” That still holds true. But, if we’re asking people to make a pre-emptive investment, that has a bearing on the proposition. In our call, Bill and I talked about, “It’s like having your leadership consulting team on-site 24/7,” which could be an angle to use in sales.

Next, we need to focus on the Campaign Design. How are we going to reach our target market, engage with them, and lead them to the point of being ready to buy CLE?

If we were going for the problem-solution-focused offering, we would need to ask, “Where do our prospects turn when they have this need?” But I don’t think that’s the way to go, as it is too fleeting.

If we’re going to favour a more pro-active preventative message, we need to reach out to the market instead. (In Awareness Ladder language, we’re going for a Step Zero market, which always means we need to go out and meet them where they are.) So first we should ask, “Where does our target market congregate?

3.1 Where Does the Market Congregate?

We’re looking at a horizontal slice across all larger businesses (probably focusing on the US). So they are not related in terms of sector. So where do top-level executives (and HR directors) congregate?

LinkedIn is one obvious candidate, and I think there are good possibilities here. Bill has already done some great groundwork in joining some likely groups, and building direct relationships with potential clients and influencers. There seem to be plenty of groups for top-level execs, such as CFO Network (with 224,000 members).

Another obvious possibility is publications. Are there magazines or journals that are specifically for top-level executives? (Yes, a quick Google search reveals Chief Executive magazine, for example, with PageRank of 5.) According to its media kit, this magazine sells a full-page ad in black and white for around $19,000, and is distributed to 33,000 companies with $10M annual turnover.

The next question is, “How to reach them?

3.2 How to Reach the Market

We must always be conscious of how much of a gap we have to bridge for our prospects. The size of the awareness gap can really help guide our choice of outreach channels and techniques.

Can the proposition be summed up, or suggested, in a few words for an AdWords ad, for example? Would a 3-minute video get the message across? Or maybe a 30-minute video? Would a sales letter be more appropriate? Or, does a customer need a sales meeting?

For the CLE offering, the initial proposition is simple and powerful: “The most cost-effective way to deliver practical professional development to all your leaders and managers.”

However, to get a prospect from their starting point to the position of wanting to buy will involve a lot more information, particularly for a ~$6k monthly investment. At a minimum, they will want to know:

  • why they can trust CLE,
  • how it will work,
  • what results they should expect,
  • and what guarantees or support structures are being offered.

I tend to weigh up this “awareness or information gap” in terms of the length of time it would take to talk somebody through everything. In this case, I would imagine the initial “conversation” being in the 20-minute conversation timeframe, which would generate a lead that would probably be followed by a closing sequence over the phone.

We also need to bear in mind the size of the sale. In this case, I am recommending we focus on the larger-scale enterprise sale, which should provide the most return on investment of sales effort. Considering the wide range of possible return and the size of the gap we need to bridge, why go to the effort of selling to individuals, when you can sell 200 or 500 seats at a time? A 200-seat license for CLE might cost in the region of $6000 per month. Considering we have a target of $80,000 monthly revenue, we don’t need a huge number of subscribers to deliver the result we want. (Additionally, Bill told me the timeline to hit this target could be as much as two years, provided he sees early validation that the target will be met!)

The initial step is outreach: How do we make first contact with potential leads?

One attractive possibility for this scale of initial conversation is the magazine article or ad, which is good considering we have identified publications as one possible channel.

A second is, as we’ve already seen, could be direct marketing through LinkedIn.

A third, as Bill and I discussed on our call, is to use affiliates. If we’re going for sales worth typically $6000 per month, if we were to offer affiliates a 20% lifetime referral fee, that could be worth $1200 per month on-going, which I think is very attractive.

Affiliates would be people in a position of influence with reference to the target market, and might include:

  • Publications, such as the Chief Executive magazine, who could help to promote the offer through editorial copy, or through direct email outreach;
  • Bloggers and industry commentators;
  • Coaches, which Bill mentioned previously as a potential target market in their own right, but who would need an incentive to promote what might be viewed as a competitor;
  • Also LinkedIn group administrators, who could promote the offer directly to their members.

How would an affiliate channel work in practice? Generally, the idea is to make it as easy as possible for affiliates. If they can simply encourage their followers to click a link through to a warm-up sequence of some kind, then we can track who follows the link with a cookie, and if the prospect progresses through the sales funnel, we can identify the referring affiliate. There are trusted affiliate networks that can provide the affiliate admin, or we can develop custom affiliate functionality. (I would probably advise using third-party systems, which are tried-and-tested and which will be more likely to be trusted by serious affiliates. Shareasale is a good example.)

3.3 Planning Communications (14 Nov)

Designing a Campaign will nearly always involve multiple communications. (That’s why it is so important to try to get the prospect’s contact details as early as possible, so that you can contact them again directly with the next communication and don’t have to rely on them reaching back out to you.)

In the case of CLE, I can visualise the following sequence:

  1. Prospect hears about CLE offering, either via Advertising, LinkedIn, or an Affiliate.
  2. They go to a second source, where they get the CLE story / pitch in detail. This is where most of the heavy lifting is done, but we are never going to close a 4-figure sale via a webinar / sales video / sales page, etc., which means we shouldn’t even try (it could put people off). So we’ll need to provide a more direct sales channel to close prospects.
  3. Telephone or Skype meetings with consultants to close the deal.

Considering our “low bar” target would be to be on track to get a $1M business (approx. $80,000 monthly turnover) within two years, and assuming we can retain signed-up customers and minimise subscription cancellation, and also assuming a ~$6000 mean monthly subscription… One new subscription per month over 24 months would built into a $144,000 monthly revenue, almost double our low-bar target.

So we should be aiming to close a handful of new accounts each month. That brings a few implications:

  • It means we can afford to invest time in the sales process. We don’t have to rush, and can nurture prospects over weeks or months if necessary.
  • We don’t have to try too hard to close an individual prospect, for example by resorting to discounts or free trials.
  • We can also apply serious 80:20, and be highly discriminating about the target prospect. One benefit of being discriminating is “polarisation”, which I define as, “The extent to which you specify your ideal prospect will result in attracting those that are a fit – and repelling those who are not a fit – in equal measure.” In practice, this means we can be explicit about the size of company and the level of executive we’ll talk to. This can lead to a, “Do you qualify?” type of mechanism.

A Note on The Velvet Rope Tactic

The “Velvet Rope” is a technique used the world over to get people to want something more, so that they’ll go to extra lengths (such as wait longer or pay more) to get it.

Imagine a club, restaurant, or event where there is a “VIP Area” roped off with one of these velvet ropes. You’ll want to be in that area, partly because you’ll imagine that’s where the highest-level conversations are happening (not necessarily true), and partly because it would make you feel special (subjectively true).

Here’s the important truth: Even if the space beyond the velvet rope is no different to the general space (i.e. the food, tables, atmosphere etc. are all the same), if we are told we may not qualify for something extra, we’ll want to qualify! That’s practically a psychological law.

So this Campaign will be highly targeted, carefully filtering the right prospects early, so that we can afford to invest enough of our best people’s time in closing deals.

Sketching The Campaign

Here’s my first pass at the Campaign flow.

Photo of my whiteboard shCampaign Design for CLE

Photo of my whiteboard showing the first pass at the Campaign Design for CLE

We’re dealing with a Step Zero market (i.e. they don’t necessarily have a conscious problem or need yet), so the whiteboard has column areas for Steps 0 through 5. I’ve added all the Major Objectives, so that I can make sure every one is addressed.

The first, critical Objective is “REACH”, against which I’ve written (in blue) “Affiliates / LinkedIn / Advertising”. Right now, I think any of these channels may work well. We might end up trying them all, or going with one preferred route to start. The minimum this first message has to do is to pique the prospect’s interest and get them to click through to the “INITIAL MESSAGE”.

“INITIAL MESSAGE” covers Step 0 through to Step 3. My note (all my notes are in blue, for clarity) says, “No pricing, typically ~2%” because cost is not the question at this point. The goal is to build up the need to the point where cost turns into “investment”.

Under Step 1 (identifying the problem), I have, “You’re a forward thinker and careful with investing $” (as a guide to the ideal target prospect, because it will be the more pro-active and technology-aware senior exec that sees the value in this).

I also have “People aren’t aware of their issues – TRUE” because that is one of the building blocks of the problem.

The problem might be defined in this way (possibly with each point illustrated with Bill’s real-world experience)…

  • You are responsible for the performance of hundreds of team leaders and managers.
  • None of us is perfect. I have never come across a manager who was born with the full skillset required to get the best performance and results in ever situation. We all have our shortcomings and blind spots, which may only show up in certain scenarios.
  • The problem is, we can’t see our own areas of weakness. And colleagues or subordinates may not feel able to point them out.
  • So we have a situation where people at all levels of management may be under-performing, without even knowing they are under-performing! This is unfortunately all too common.
  • Usually, it is only when matters escalate to crisis point that consultants like us are brought in. Now, we can invariably deliver a solution, but there are a few drawbacks with using that kind of solution
    • We’re expensive (five figures per day).
    • There are very few leadership performance specialists with our degree of experience.
    • By the time you have a crisis on your hands, it has probably already done significant damage.
  • We have seen this time and time again, even in organisations that generally have great leadership, great resources, and a great spirit.

You can see how that logical argument sets up the need: a gap that needs to be filled. This description of the Problem could form the first experience, leaving the prospect with a problem that needs solving.

Under Step 2 (where we acknowledge and aim to discredit alternative solutions to the problem), I have written “Books are blunt and you don’t action” and “Consultants very expensive.”

We may have already mentioned why bringing in consultants is extremely inefficient (so, in a way, we’re putting CLE’s historical business up as a straw man to knock down too).

Below “Set up ideal solution,” I’ve added, “Use new technology.” The angle here will be to say that the Internet has revolutionised so many areas of work (e.g. CRM, lead generation, PR through social media to name a few), delivering incredible cost savings and efficiencies. But the world of leadership development has so far lagged behind the technology revolution. (Now we’ve started to set up what the ideal solution may look like.)

We might then go on to say, “Imagine if you didn’t have to wait for a management crisis to bring in the top experts. What would your business look like if every single manager on your team had access to a targeted leadership development program every hour of every single day? What would be the impact on your results if you had access to a system that pro-actively identified your managers’ next growth opportunity, and delivered the ideal guidance they need, whenever they need it, on a rolling basis?”

What we’re doing there is both “Setting up the ideal solution” and “Visualising the outcome” – two of the Major Objectives. If you can get your prospect to visualise what something would mean to them (in terms of personal benefits), you are halfway to a sale.

Under Step 3 (where we have presented our alternative, better solution), I’ve added the note “Targeted” to “Benefits” as a reminder that we need to make our benefits very specific to our target prospect. (Note: That’s another great reason to discriminate and focus your target audience. The more you know whom you’re talking to, the better you can focus your message to that exact persona. A generic message designed not to exclude anybody will attract nobody! That’s what polarisation is all about, and that’s also why the logo of Ultimate Web Design is a magnet!)

I’ve added “Case study descriptions” to “Evidence” because it isn’t good enough to claim that you can deliver some benefit. It’s much better to prove it, and the best way is to demonstrate that you’ve done it many times before.

There’s also a comment saying, “Any testimonials?” to which the answer is yes. Here are CLE’s past client testimonials.

After that point, we need to be presenting the call to action to get the prospect to contact CLE to register their interest, and begin the closing process. So later Objectives (Risk reversal, Scarcity, Urgency, Final call to action) will actually be delivered through that process.

Next Steps in Campaign Design

  1. Design the first exposure (which might be a magazine article, letter, affiliate post to a LinkedIn group).
  2. Design the “Initial Message” (video, sales page?)
  3. Set out the scope for the closing call.

Here is the script I’ve written for the Initial Message

This copywriting work represents the conclusion of the initial Strategy & Campaign Design engagement with the client, by agreement. Total time spent: 15 hours.

#1. Initial Ad


A high-level executive sees this, either in an executive leadership magazine, or on a LinkedIn group. It is interesting enough to get them to click through to the pre-sales video (2).

We’re speaking to a progressive and forward-thinking leader, so our language should polarize in favour of that audience.

The ad should either offer a problem, new information, or an opportunity.

Like any ad, it should suggest at something that the target market doesn’t think they already know, but shouldn’t try to make them feel ignorant either.

(Of course, the great thing about online ads is that they can be split-tested. That doesn’t necessarily hold so true in organic promotion on LinkedIn, but we might be able to do some form of testing.)

Headline Ideas

  • How You Can Get Leadership Consultants On-Site 24/7 For Just 2% Of Usual Cost
  • The Radical New Way Forward-Thinking CEOs Are Developing The Leadership Skills Of All Their Managers
  • How Smart Leaders Prevent Costly Management Crises Before They Occur
  • Why I’m Closing The Doors On My Leadership Development Consultancy
  • Why You Should Never Hire Another Leadership Development Consultant
  • The End of Leadership Development As We Know It
  • Is This The Future Of Leadership Development?

The ad body, if any, simply develops the theme of the headline, or could use one of the alternative headline angles.

Clicking on the ad will go straight through to a simple video page. (It might make sense to have a dedicated domain name for this pre-sales video, which can be easily typed in by someone who sees the ad in print.)

#2. Pre-Sales Video

This video is the critical step in the marketing campaign.

It will probably be hosted on a simple, plain page. It takes the prospect from their initial stage of curiosity (still unaware of the problem or our proposed solution) to the point of thinking that they should seriously look into the CLE package for their business.

So the video must deliver all the key Objectives from the Campaign Design.

  • Distinguish who needs to hear this message
  • Establish and highlight the problem and its consequences
  • Discredit alternatives (including doing nothing)
  • Set up criteria for an ideal solution
  • Present our solution, which fits the criteria
  • Illustrate the benefits of that solution (Note: Our job is not to get someone ready to buy, but interested and ready to find out more.)
  • Provide a next step


Hello. My name is Bill Paradis.

I have spent four decades at the sharp end of business leadership. Since 1999 I have delivered specialized leadership development to a selection of large businesses through my consulting firm.

But on one day in {late 2014}, we shut it all down.

It is not because we were not successful. On the contrary. In fact, our methods worked so well that we were able to guarantee to deliver the results that our clients needed, and we did that time after time. It was very good, profitable business.

We didn’t close it down due to lack of demand. Corporations in this country need effective leaders and managers more than ever.

The reason we shut down that business is due to something else. Something that is shaking up the way business works. This is a sea change, a true game changer, and it’s impacting every single sector and every business function.

Some of our smartest leaders can see the way the tide is going and are embracing the change. Others are ignoring it, which I think is a mistake.

Of course I’m talking about the digital information revolution. The new technology is overturning the way we share information, at every level of our businesses.

The most forward-thinking senior executives really get the scale of what the digital content revolution means for business. You know that it goes far beyond simply reducing the costs of information delivery, increasing speed, and scalability. Sure, those factors are dramatic, but they are really only the tip of the iceberg…

You know that the challenge for leadership is not a lack of information. There is no shortage of information, we’re drowning in information, we’re tapped into an endless stream coming at us in real time.

But we know we don’t need a firehose of data. In fact, too much data can impair our performance.

No. What we need is intelligence.

The true value that digital media promises is in delivering targeted intelligence,
where it is most needed, and when it is needed.

How does this relate to leadership development and how did it lead to me throwing out a highly profitable business model?

I think the consulting sector is one of the last to feel the impact of the digital revolution. Of course, there is no shortage of consultants ready to sell you reports, advice, or a range of other services about digital, but this sector assumed it was immune from having to adapt its own models.

Take my specialty: leadership development. Our methods have always depended on gathering a significant amount of information, providing intuitive diagnoses, and setting out customized development plans for every unique problem. Surely such a sensitive and specialized service could only be carried out by highly experienced consultants, and could only happen on-site.

That’s what consulting firms would have you believe, and — if true — it would certainly justify fees of $15,000 or more per day to have teams like mine come in to help you resolve your leadership challenges.

Well, I now believe that is based on false assumptions. In fact, in my experience, the majority of leadership development problems are not unique. And that realization has radical implications.

Back in 1999, when I founded my first management consultancy, I developed a proprietary conceptual model for leadership, based on detailed analysis, the input of a number of psychologists, and of course 25 years’ experience in transforming businesses.

Over the past fifteen years, I have continued to develop and improve this model. This unique piece of intellectual property gave us a real advantage, which has continued to prove its value right up to the present day.

Let me share with you what I realized. The more leaders I worked with, the more I saw the same problems coming up again and again.

Then, when I analyzed the patterns, I realized that success in leadership rests on just seven core principles, and that each one has a very specific set of skills that can be easily developed.

But, as I’m sure you know, you can only develop a skill if you can first identify that it needs to be developed. When we’re in a position of authority, when we’re successful, it’s easy to think we’re . And who’s going to tell us we’re not too good at something? So as leaders we need a robust method for revealing the blind spots in our skillsets.

That’s why we developed methods for identifying those areas that need development, using our own 360-degree review, together with highly specific targeted training materials for each skill.

What I want you to know is, that’s the exact process we used again and again in our consulting business for fifteen years, and it delivered great results every time.

{Maybe mention a few client testimonials here?}

It was in {2012??} when I got the big realization, which hit me like a train

It seemed we had modeled this seemingly incredibly complex discipline to a level that just maybe it could be adapted to digital media!

If we could find a way first to deliver the crucial analysis that would help leaders and managers to identify areas for improvement, and then to provide targeted skills training… all digitally, that would enable us to reach far more than the small group of hand-picked corporations that could afford our services.

It would enable us to reach every business that needed that support, and it could be delivered in an entirely new way.

If we could do that, it would mean the game-changing power of the digital media revolution could transform the way that corporations accessed leadership development.

Of course, instead of paying five-figure fees for in-person, on-site consulting, the analysis and training could be delivered digitally, for a tiny fraction of the cost.

But, more importantly, it would mean that companies wouldn’t need to wait until they had a management crisis on their hands, or were facing huge change, to call in help.

Affordable 24/7 access would mean that every manager, every leader, every executive, could develop their leadership skills proactively, when and where it suited them. And that would have profound implications for corporate performance.

And that’s exactly what we did. We have spent three years building a platform that would allow managers and leaders at every level in any medium-sized or large organization to access the exact same development methods that previously had only been available to a select few.

And on that day in late 2014, we were able to take the step of moving our leadership development consulting business 100% online.

We’re starting small, honing our platform with just a few of the right kind of organizations. But the feedback we have already received is extremely encouraging.

If you’re a business leader, what does this mean to your business?

Well, it depends what type of leader you are.

I know that not everyone is ready to move from high-ticket in-person consulting to an online model. It requires a particular type of attitude: one that sees every team leader at every level as valuable enough to invest in proactively, and that acknowledges that each person can be responsible for their own development.

Not every business has that kind of culture. Many still use battle-tested top-down command-and-control structures, and they can still get results. Don’t get me wrong. Calling in leadership consultants when things get rocky works as well today as it ever did. It’s just that now, there’s an alternative.

So if you’re one of those who are not afraid to challenge long-held beliefs, who’s ready to embrace new, radical ways of doing business, maybe we can help you to realize the change you want to see, to create a culture that values every leader, and to see the development of every individual as an on-going process — not a lifeline for times of crisis.

If that’s you, I would invite you to get in touch with us at the Center for Leadership Excellence. We have no salesmen. You’ll speak to an experienced leadership consultant.



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